Massachusetts expands role of optometrists in glaucoma treatment

massachusetts statehouse

Telemedicine coverage by insurance also covered in new law.

The first day of 2021 rang in good news for optometrists in Massachusetts. A multi-faceted healthcare bill was signed into law that allows optometrists to prescribe topical medications for the treatment of glaucoma and to have authority to prescribe oral anti-infectives, moving the state in line with common optometric practice across the rest of the country. New England College of Optometry (NECO) along with many organizations, optometrists and students actively advocated for this important change.

“At NECO, our faculty attendings are trained to diagnose, monitor, and treat glaucoma and to teach our students to practice in any state. However in Massachusetts, optometrists were withheld from prescribing glaucoma drops, the most common treatment,” notes Gary Chu, OD, MPH, VP of Professional Affairs.

According to the Massachusetts Society for Optometrists (MSO), early diagnosis and management of glaucoma offers patients protection against the risk of vision loss or blindness. Now, during visits with their optometrist, patients diagnosed with glaucoma can be treated directly, reducing the need to schedule time and pay for a specialist visit.

The Massachusetts Society of Optometrists (MSO), the New England College of Optometry and other organizations have advocated for the change for more than two decades to bring practices in line with the other 49 states and the Veteran’s Administration health system.

“Access and continuity of care are improved by having the diagnosis, follow-up, and treatment of glaucoma all with the same doctor” states Dr. Chu, acknowledging that it may take months for details on how to implement the law to be finalized.

NECO’s curriculum and clinical training has always prepared students to practice full scope optometry in any state. We are pleased that Massachusetts now joins the ranks of other states in expanding privileges to serve the needs of patients.

The timing couldn’t be better. According to the National Eye Institute, the number of people in the US with glaucoma is expected to double from 2010 to 2050, from 2.7 million to 6.3 million.

The new healthcare law also requires insurance companies to cover telehealth visits. NECO was one of the first optometry schools to use telehealth visits at their eye centers.